For the last decade or so, there has been much discussion in education centered on preparing students, faculty, and professionals who are globally competitive. With advances in technology, increased trade, and growing multinational companies and institutions, it is imperative that this generation and future generations are prepared to work in a global marketplace and community. Colleges and universities across the U.S. are making a concerted effort to be proactive and intentional in making sure they’re students are not only able to compete with and work with their international counterparts. HBCUs are not exempt. It is important for HBCUs to take seriously the task of creating students that are global citizens. Study abroad programs prove beneficial for Black students. For example, the Institution of International Education found that study abroad programs are associated with higher graduation rates in Black students.
Study abroad has been used for many years to broaden the perspectives and diversify student learning experiences. Currently, 58% of HBCUs have opportunities for students to study abroad. However, it appears that many students do not take advantage of these programs. The reasons can range from a lack of study abroad destinations that are attractive to HBCU students being offered by the most popular third party providers of study abroad programs to financial challenges. In a forthcoming book, Mullen found that many study abroad programs are still largely concentrated in Western Europe. These programs often draw college students who are “heritage seekers” having a cultural connection with the area. For Black students, more non-Western locations may be more desirable options.
For students at HBCUs who are low-income, the cost of participating in study abroad may be too much of financial burden. Furthermore the strained financial resources of a number of HBCUs leave study abroad offices to be understaffed. This understaffing creates challenges in trying to manage multiple programming and intense outreach to students. There is also the question of transfer of credits and how studying abroad will have an impact on one’s time to degree completion. In short, sometimes the benefits of study abroad do not seem worth the costs in the minds of some HBCU students. To take it a step further, sometimes institutions feel similarly about investing in study abroad programs and offices.
It is imperative that HBCUs take measures to not only establish study abroad programs and opportunities but also push to increase student participation. Offices cannot simply wait for students who are interested in study abroad to approach them. There must be a proactive approach to inform, educate, and encourage students to consider study abroad. Institutions should also involve families and parents of students in discussing the benefits of study abroad, the details of what study abroad entails, and the various ways of funding and payment.
HBCU leadership must also take the steps to find ways to support and finance study abroad opportunities for low-income students. Institutions can also explore partnerships with approved third party providers whose programs offer students in-residence credit. This approach alleviates the burden of overhead and administrative tasks and allows for students to take courses while abroad that could be covered by financial aid and are similar in cost to courses taken on campus.
There are a number of HBCUs that have excelled in the area of study abroad, such as Morgan State University and Spelman College. Spelman has offered study abroad opportunities for over 50 years. These institutions have given students global learning experiences and have made strong investments in providing these experiences to as many students as possible.HBCU students, as all college students, need to be prepared to enter a global marketplace. Study abroad experiences are one way to aid in the preparation for students to successfully do so. HBCUs must take seriously not only making these opportunities available for their students, but also striving to make them more affordable and more accessible. HBCU campuses consistently show students that what society may say about Black students’ abilities, the ability of their institutions, and the stereotypes regarding African Americans are untrue and unfounded. HBCUs empower their students to see beyond narrow limitations. In that same spirit, HBCUs must also empower their students to see the same about the world.